Thalgor's Witch(3)

By: Nancy Holland


“No, witch.” Thalgor’s voice was thick with pain. “I am not done with you yet.”

*

“Gurdek!” Thalgor knew his lieutenant would have circled around and returned by now.

He appeared at once, sword drawn.

“Tie her.”

Gurdek eyed the witch, as tall as he, if half as wide, then he looked back at Thalgor, who kept his eyes fixed on the rope at his lieutenant’s waist. With a barely perceptible sigh, Gurdek took the rope and started to cut it in two pieces.

“No. Only tie the witch. The child will stay with her mother.” Thalgor shot a sharp glance at their prisoner. “And the witch will allow it as long as we have her child.”

He wondered if the child’s father lay dead among the dozens of men he had killed this day. The witch did not act like a woman who had just lost her man. But he knew little of what went on between men and women, beyond the most basic.

And she is not a woman, he reminded himself when his blood began to heat at the thought of that most basic.

Perhaps witches did not mourn. Or perhaps this one did not. She surely showed no sign of love toward her child. Not as his mother had on that far ago night when she and his childhood self had hidden from a warrior who found them after all.

The child was the image of her mother–the same oval face with dainty features, the same dark hair pulled back in a long braid, the same large eyes under a strong brow. But the child had darker skin and cat-green eyes with slitted centers.

The witch’s eyes were a pale blue that should have been weak and watery, but instead shone like the sky on a summer morning. Shone with anger as she submitted to the rope.

If not for the child, he was certain, she would fight both him and Gurdek to the death, with her magic or without it. She might even take one of them with her.

Both her courage and her submission made his blood churn in a way that distressed him.

Thalgor lifted himself to his knees, then his feet. He felt the wound heal, but pain still burned a black edge to his vision. Once on his feet, he took an unsteady step forward. He had lost a lot of blood and the witch’s magic had not restored it, but his legs held him. He walked on, as if he never doubted he could, and gestured for Gurdek to follow.

“What do you want with a witch?” Gurdek grumbled with the familiarity of an old comrade as they followed the road toward their camp.

Preoccupied with walking normally despite the pain, Thalgor leered at him in response.

Gurdek knew him too well to settle for such an answer. “You do not allow the men to rape, and even if you wished to take a witch to your bed, you know magic protects witches from men. I doubt this one will give herself to you freely.”

Thalgor’s body heated again with an unwanted vision of the witch struggling beneath him as he buried himself in the soft wetness of her body. But the flash of lust dissolved into memories of all the nights he had lain awake and listened to his mother scream and beg. Revulsion twisted inside him.

He knew now he should never have allowed the vile man they had left behind into the band when he came to them as a starving renegade. What he would do about the depraved pleasure his own imagination had given him Thalgor did not know. He could almost be grateful for his pain, as if it were a magic charm against the danger he might become as cruel as his mother’s tormentor.

“Witches heal,” he replied. “And they have second sight. To know how many warriors an enemy has, and where, could make us invincible.”

“Her second sight did not save the band we defeated today.”

“Perhaps their leader did not listen to her.” He gestured with his sword to the bit of leather still wrapped around the witch’s ankle. “He kept her a slave. Who listens to a slave?”

“But why should she share her gift with us?”

Thalgor looked back at the woman, who walked straight and proud despite the ropes and the child who clung to her cloak. “Perhaps she can be convinced to throw her lot in with ours. It might prove interesting to try.”

A seduction either way, he thought with a shiver of desire.

*

Erwyn struggled against the indignity of the ropes with small movements she hoped the men could not see in the deepening purple of evening, but she could not free herself. Even if she could, as the panic of the battle faded she realized her plan to flee to the Sea Mountains was worse than hopeless.